About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier & WWI’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home"

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives for Patrick O’Donnell’s talk on his new book, The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier & World War I’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m glad you could join us, whether you are here in the theater or watching through our YouTube channel or C-SPAN.

Before we bring up Patrick O’Donnell, I’d like to tell you about two programs that are coming up next week in this theater.

On Tuesday, June 12, at noon, John A. Lawrence will be here to discuss his recently published book, The Class of '74: Congress After Watergate and the Roots of Partisanship. The post-Watergate election of 1974 replaced dozens of Republican House members with reforming Democratic freshmen, and Lawrence examines how the newly elected representatives transformed Congress.  

And on Wednesday, June 13, at noon, John Reeves explores the changing attitudes toward Robert E. Lee over the last 150 years and an 1865 indictment against him for treason in The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case against an American Icon.

Book signings will follow both programs.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events online at Archives.gov. Check our website or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

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Military records in the National Archives document not only command decisions and military operations but also the actions of individuals. A number of the records testify to the greatest sacrifice—death in combat.

The national cemetery across the river in Arlington, Virginia, is the resting place of more than 400,000 people, including nearly 5,000 unknown soldiers. In 1921 a single unknown soldier was chosen to represent all those who have died without being identified. This soldier of World War I was laid to rest with solemn ceremony, attended by the highest ranks of military and civilian leaders.

A film in our motion picture holdings documents the progress of that soldier’s remains from France to the United States and the newly built Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol, where the Unknown lay in state, General Pershing stood as the soldier’s “father”—to fill the role of “nearest relative.”

All along the way, from France to the final resting place, eight men personally selected by General Pershing accompanied the body of the Unknown.

Let’s hear from Patrick O’Donnell now and learn the story of those eight “Body Bearers” and their heroism on the battlefield.

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Patrick K. O’Donnell is a bestselling, critically acclaimed military historian and an expert on elite units. He is the author of 11 books, including Washington’s Immortals, We Were One, and Dog Company, and he is the recipient of several national awards. He served as a combat historian in a Marine rifle platoon during the Battle of Fallujah and speaks often on espionage, special operations, and counterinsurgency. He has provided historical consulting for DreamWorks’ award-winning miniseries Band of Brothers and for documentaries produced by the BBC, the History Channel, Fox News, and Discovery.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Patrick O’Donnell.